BURY Cancer Support Centre is this week celebrating a big birthday as it battles to offer its vital support during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Bolton Road-based centre is marking 17 years of providing invaluable therapy, counselling and advice to patients, carers, their families and the bereaved, at all stages of their cancer journey.

Over the years the centre has survived flooding, a near constant struggle to secure necessary funding, and relocated three times.

But, amid the anniversary celebrations, the centre is also working tirelessly in the face of unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19.

Although in lockdown, Jeff Green, the centre's chairman, described the present situation as "business as usual despite some serious and unpredictable alterations".

Bury Times: Jeff Green, chairman of Bury Cancer Support CentreJeff Green, chairman of Bury Cancer Support Centre

Bury Cancer Support centre was founded in 2003 by current clinical co-ordinator, Lynne Marland, and friend Edwina Hodkinson.

At first it could only operate one day a week from St James' Church Hall in Walshaw Road, Woolfold.

But, as the first facility of its kind in the region, the centre soon attracted patients from across the North West.

Ensuring the centre could run was a team of volunteers, who continue to give up their time away from their day jobs in the health sector and other related services.

Soon growing demand for the service became overwhelming and it eventually moved into its current, bespoke building on Bolton Road, from where it now operates four days a week.

Sadly, four years ago the centre was devastated by flooding which totally destroyed its infrastructure and fabric.

This meant the centre and was forced to undertake a five month 'exile', taking up a temporary base at Bolton Road Methodist Church, and operating under a modified service.

During this time a critical lifeline to patients was maintained thanks to the hard work of the volunteer team, headed up by centre manager Jan Katana.

Bury Times: Jan Katana, centre manager, and Lynne Marland, co-founderJan Katana, centre manager, and Lynne Marland, co-founder

At the same time centre trustees and the senior management team worked alongside the landlord, Christian Pepper’s, architects and building contractors to refurbish the site.

This overhaul saw complete redesign and refit to the interior ­— providing new treatment and counselling rooms, and kitchen facilities ­— and revitalised gardens and grounds, ready for patients' return.

Eventually, thanks to the generosity and hard work of members of the public, Bolton Road Methodist Church and Mr Pepper; the centre bounced back, and is now working towards providing a five-day cancer support service.

Dennis Taylor, a centre trustee, described that period as "a cathartic moment for the team and an opportunity to move forward with even greater determination and indefatigable team spirit responding to the ever-increasing challenges that cancer presents to the community at large".

In 2018 the centre was appointed to lead the Bury Multi-Agency Cancer Service, and provide the single point of contact for all cancer patients in the area, by Bury Clinical Commissioning Group and MacMillan Cancer Support.

During the two-year pilot, the centre received referrals from hospitals, GPs and other agencies, alongside self-referrals from the community.

At the end of this period, the centre has embedded the intended outcomes of the service in its activities, despite receiving no further funding.

As the coronavirus crisis has deepened the centre has continued to surmount challenges to maintain day to day contact via telephone calls to patients ­— giving advice, guidance, solace and comfort to callers.

Resources, developed by the centre's therapist team, in areas such as mindfulness and relaxation, have been made available online and on YouTube.

Social media has been utilised to share information and advice, while video conferencing allows trustees and senior managers to retain constant daily contact, as circumstances change.

Ms Katana said: "‘Many of our patients are struggling with significant mental health issues, anxiety, psychological wellbeing and are immunocompromised.

"To do nothing is not an option. A lifetime in national health and related community service is a powerful resource our team of staff and volunteers brings to the table at this time ­— they will not be found wanting."

However, ensuring that the centre can continue to provide care comes at a great financial cost ­— currently estimated at £200,000 per year.

Securing this funding is "always an immense challenge" the centre says, especially with no direct Government funding.

But "coronavirus will unquestionably be the biggest challenge yet", it added.

Annual funding is driven by the centre's voluntary fundraising team, led by Theresa Buckley.

Sadly, Covid-19 has already forced the cancellation or postponement of events estimated to have been likely to bring in £120,000 to £180,000, from a ladies fashion show and afternoon tea, and the Manchester 10k, to the annual Lantern Walk and charity Ball.

Tin collections have also been suspended, as has a new fundraising ‘Friends’ scheme.

However, Mr Taylor said: "Despite this the centre remains defiant that this is just one more mountain the service must climb, and climb it will."

In recent weeks a Just Giving page has been set up to help ensure the centre's future.

To donate visit justgiving.com/campaign/BuryCancerSupportCentreAppeal2020 or burycancersupportcentre.com.